Here you are, planning your wedding during a freaking plague. I commend your optimism. Now please don’t kill anybody.
How good receptions go bad
The most carefully planned wedding receptions get dangerous when two things happen: When the DJ comes on and when the alcohol comes out.
Even in normal times, you know that the moment the DJ cranks up the music, people start yelling at each other. They lean in, shout into each other’s faces, and try to read lips. As the volume grows, people will scoot their chairs closer and lean across the table to hear and be heard. So much for safe distancing.
When the environment gets too loud for normal conversation, masks make everything worse. Masks make it difficult to be clearly understood, even in quiet surroundings. Because they cover the mouth, people can’t read lips either. So they shout.
Maybe, in that loud hall, someone leans in further, just to hear this one story. A mask will come down… just to say this one thing. All around the room, masks come down so people can see and hear each other shouting at each other. And the coronavirus dances mistily through the air on showers of spittle launched right into the bare faces of the people you love the most.
Now add alcohol, which makes people, shall we say, relaxed. Now add your elderly aunt.
There’s a better way. Plan for a safer reception.
A single minute of shouting generates over 1,000 virus-containing droplets, which can stay airborne as long as 14 minutes.
How do you prevent people from shouting across the room — to you, to other tables, to the DJ? Write out instructions for each table, asking them to text or throw wads of paper or paper airplanes or actually stand up and walk across the room to talk. (Make sure you assign someone to pick up tossed papers so nobody slips and falls.)
Do everything you can to ensure that people don’t have to shout at each other to be heard. If people can be heard without shouting, they will be less likely to remove their masks to speak. If people don’t have to lean in to hear each other, they will be less likely to be virus-splattered in the face.
Loud music makes people shout
One of the most loving things you can do for your beloved community is to keep the decibels down. Honestly, have you ever heard anybody complain at a reception that the music wasn’t loud enough? It won’t kill anybody to turn the volume down. Doing so might have the opposite effect, in fact.
Many bands and disc jockeys play music at 100 dB. Not only does this decibel level cause hearing loss in just 14 minutes, when the music is this loud people are forced to shout at each other to be heard. Shouting is dangerous, as well as exhausting.
Have a talk with your DJ before the reception, and agree on a safe volume for the music and the mic. You and your guests can easily hear the music and each other if the music at 60 dB, and there’s really no need to raise the volume if people are just eating and chatting.
When you want your guests to stop talking and start dancing, instruct your DJ to go no louder than 85 dB, which is loud enough to be loud, quiet enough to converse without shouting, and protects everyone’s hearing. Monitor the situation by putting one of your attendants in charge of paying attention to guests’ body language to see if they are shouting to be heard; empower that attendant to give firm instructions to the DJ.
Loud music makes people drink more
Bars and taverns know that loud, fast music keeps people drinking. From a scientific perspective, high sound levels cause higher “arousal,” which leads people to drink faster and order more drinks. Also, when people can’t talk to each other because the music is so loud, they drink more.
Alcohol makes people shout
The science isn’t clear on why, but it’s known that once a person has a few drinks, his/her hearing is impaired. The alcohol might be acting on the ear drum, or the muscles that can pull on the ear drum to quieten down the outside world, or the cochlea, or the acoustic nerve that carries the information into the brain, or it could be acting on that area that processes this information. Whatever the reason, a person who has had a few drinks hears him/herself as talking too quietly and starts talking louder to compensate. That’s why, when people have been drinking at a reception, the noise level goes up.
Alcohol makes people reckless
With the first drink, alcohol produces a sense of well-being and mild euphoria by boosting a chemical in the brain called dopamine. It acts as a social lubricant, making us more empathetic, trusting, and (temporarily) generous.
Alcohol also acts on neurotransmitters in the brain that reduce anxiety. After a few drinks, alcohol inactivates a second set of brain circuits that control fear. So, something that was scary at the beginning of the evening feels less scary as the evening progresses.
Alcohol compromises our ability to compute risk. As vigilant as your guests (and you) might be early in your reception, the more alcohol everyone imbibes, the more likely everyone will be to lower their guard regarding distancing, masking, and hygiene.
Keep the happy — Lose the dangerous
You want you and your guests to mingle, dance, relax, and have fun. Slowing down the flow of alcohol won’t get in the way of anyone’s enjoyment but can help prevent people from getting so sloppy wasted that they behave recklessly. Ideas:
- Make low-ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks your reception’s BFF. ABV drinks typically contain between four and seven percent alcohol by volume and include beer, wine, vermouth, and hard cider. Offering a fun variety of low-ABV beverages can ensure everyone a good time without feeling deprived.
- Offer a half-open bar. Provide no- or low-alcohol drinks for free, including mocktails. (Any drink that contains 0.5 percent ABV is classified as non-alcoholic.)
- Invent some signature ABV “Wedding specials” named after you, and offer them for free. Here’s a terrific list of ideas, from sangria to sgroppino to gin fizz.
- Charge more for hard liquor.
- Don’t offer hard liquor at all.
- Close the bar early, except for non-alcoholic drinks.
The COVID-19 virus is transmitted either by direct contact or when the virus hitches a ride on tiny droplets released into the air by a carrier from person to person. Distancing about six feet apart gives droplets more of a chance to fall to the ground.
In order to safely distance your guests, you’re going to need a space twice as big as would be typically needed for the number of guests, even if you have your reception outdoors.
Reserve everyone’s seats at dinner, distancing them six feet apart across each table and side-to-side. Space the tables farther apart and seat fewer guest per tables. Use smaller tables — four-tops — so people won’t be shouting at each other. Find out from guests when they RSVP if they have “safe pods,” such as people they live with, with whom they can sit safely; seat these guests together.
Reduce crowding at the bar by setting up multiple bar stations around the venue. Have guests draw a number and give bartenders a microphone so they can call on guests one by one. Mark safe distances on the floor with tape or custom decals. (Make sure that the stickers you use are suitable for the venue’s floor. You don’t want to get charged extra for having to clean up something off a wood floor that wasn’t made for wood floors.)
Plate everything. To prevent guests from bumping hands, sharing serving utensils, and touching food, avoid self-serve buffets, “family style” meals, hors d’oeuvre trays, and dessert displays. No finger food, unless it’s pre-plated, on napkins, or in cups. Have your caterer plate everything. No cupcakes. If you must have serving stations, spread them around the venue and mark safe distances on the floor with tape or custom decals. If you must have a buffet, have servers handle all the serving utensils, and make sure people are distanced in line; note that this can make for a very slow buffet service.
Give people places to set down their drinks and appetizers. Figure out how to avoid having people standing close together while they’re munching.
Replace your physical guestbook with a virtual guestbook. Guests tend to congregate around the guestbook and share pens. Instead, invite your guests to record their well wishes on their smartphone and email them to you to be built into a video or photo guestbook later on.
Spread out the dancing. This is a tough one. Dancing is meant to bring us close, not keep us apart. But dancing makes us breathe harder and faster, turning each of us into COVID-19 magnets / distributors. Consider creating mini dance floors spread across the hall, separated by tables. Mark the floor with safe distance tape and decals, and ask your DJ to help manage the crowds by keeping count of how many guests are invited to the floor at a time.
Keep the air fresh and moving
If you can, have your reception outdoors. In enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, droplets containing the COVID-19 virus can hover in the air for minutes to hours. When you’re outside with fresh air constantly moving, those droplets get dispersed, so everyone is less likely to breathe in enough enough droplets to become infected.
If you hold your reception in a tent, keep the side flaps open. Have your vendor set up fans to keep the air moving. If the night gets chilly, your vendor can set up heat lamps at one end of the tent and fans at the other end, which will pull the heat through the tent while keeping it ventilated.
If your wedding is indoors, open windows and set up fans to keep the air moving and ventilated.
Keep it clean
Have wipes on hand to sanitize everything that is passed around, like the mic. Make sure you ask the DJ what is safe to use on his equipment.
Hand out individual-sized hand sanitizer dispensers as favors when people arrive for your wedding ceremony. Set up hand sanitizer stations around the venue, including on dinner tables and the DJ’s station.
Avoid table cloths in the cocktail area, so servers can wipe down surfaces with sanitary wipes while bussing tables. Ask servers to also navigate the room and routinely wipe down the backs and seats of unoccupied chairs.
Ask the bartender to sanitize and wipe down the bar every fifteen minutes or so. Have him/her set a timer so s/he won’t forget to take a break. Set up a sign on the bar to inform guests of the safety policy so they won’t get impatient.
Mask everyone up
Insist that everyone be masked, from officiant to attendants to DJ to caterers to bartenders to guests. Ask your DJ to remind guests at regular intervals that mask-wearing is an act of love for your beloved community.
Better yet, have masks made so that wearing one feels like a celebration rather than a restriction.
Ask your attendants and vendors to model good mask-wearing through the evening.
Don’t get get cocky
Even if your wedding is thoroughly ventilated, every should still mask up and safely distance.
Remember that even people who have been vaccinated can still spread the coronavirus. Even people who have had the the virus can spread it. Even people who don’t show symptoms can have it. Have your DJ check in from time to time to thank people for the ways they are looking out for one another.